| NEW YORK
NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Treadmills under the tree.
Fitness-related holiday gifts might lack the Victorian whimsy of ten lords a-leaping or five golden rings, but they offer modern tidings of comfort and joy at several price points, industry experts say.
"Being festive, relieving stress and having fun. That's what people need now," said Christina DeGuardi, marketing manager of Crunch fitness centers. "We decided to celebrate the season."
So the national health club chain has decked the halls with silver trees, strung colored lights, and issued a holiday guide of gifts ranging from $25 for yoga mats and signature hoodies to $200 for high-tech calorie-tracking armbands.
"Personal training sessions are our most popular gift," DeGuardi said. "They've really taken off this year. Gym memberships also do well."
Of course there's no need to go anywhere near a gym, or even a sporting goods store, to find fitness gifts. This year you can buy a stability ball in a bookstore and a treadmill in an electronics outlet.
"It's pretty straightforward to go to where people are," said Colleen Logan, vice president of marketing for ICON Fitness, the largest manufacturer of home fitness equipment, about the new venues.
"We know people are still budgeting, so we are pleased by the solid and steady sales we are seeing in treadmills and ellipticals, especially at the price points of $599, $799 and $999," Logan said.
But some buying patterns have shifted with the economy. "Large-ticket fitness items are being purchased for a household," she said, rather than for an individual. "It's the way people bought computers 10 years ago."
On the stocking-stuffer end of the spectrum, Logan said some new twists on old stalwarts, such as dumbbells and kettle bells that can be adjusted from five to 25 pounds are really taking off.
"You don't want all those dumbbells lying around," she explains. "It's unattractive."
The Gaiam company, known for its yoga apparel and accessories, is also reporting a good year.
"Our clothing has sold out this season," said spokesperson Claudia Bonser. "I'm blown away."
She added that moderately-priced yoga accessories, sox and sandals, were all selling well, as were celebrity-infused DVDs, notably "Losing it and Keeping Fit," with TV actress Valerie Bertinelli, and "Warrior Yoga," with Trudy Styler, wife of rock star Sting.
Jessica Matthews of American Council on Exercise (ACE) says we'll probably see more celebrity-inspired products, given the success of TV shows like "The Biggest Loser."
"They're motivating and inspiring," she said.
Another trend is Exergaming: inter-active video-based fitness games, such as Nintendo's Wii Sports and Wii Fit and the PC-based Dancetown.
Matthews said a recent ACE study found that not all exergames are created equal.
"Wii Sports offered a better cardiovascular workout than Wii Fit, which confines the user to a balance pad," she said.
Still the games are appealing and handy.
"Advanced Dance Revolution on Playstation 2 is popular with youth. Dancetown, with ballroom-like moves and foxtrots, appeals to the older population. It wouldn't be advocated as the only form of exercise, but it's a great place to start," she said.
"To get people to adhere to a long-term program we know that it has to be convenient," she added.
And unlike that bygone partridge in a pear tree, available at several price points.